Afghan civilians take up arms as US-led forces leave

Armed men attend a gathering to announce their support for Afghan security forces and that they are ready to fight against the Taliban, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, June 23, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Afghan civilians take up arms as US-led forces leave

  • Dost Mohammad Salangi: ‘If they impose war on us, oppress us and encroach on women and people’s property, even our seven-year-old children will be armed and will stand against them’
  • Faced with rising violence, President Ashraf Ghani visited Washington this month to meet Joe Biden, who pledged US support to Afghanistan but said Afghans must decide their own future

PARWAN, Afghanistan: Gun in hand, 55-year-old Dost Mohammad Salangi recites poetry as he leads a small group of men to a look-out post high in the rugged hills of Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital Kabul.
Heavily bearded and wearing a traditional circular pakol hat to keep off the sun, he has a warning for the militant Taliban movement, which has increased attacks on Afghan forces and claimed more territory as foreign troops withdraw.
“If they impose war on us, oppress us and encroach on women and people’s property, even our seven-year-old children will be armed and will stand against them,” he told Reuters.
Salangi is one of hundreds of former “mujahideen” fighters and civilians who have felt compelled to take up arms to help the army repel a growing Taliban insurgency.
The group’s ascendancy on the ground comes as the last US-led international forces prepare to leave after two decades of fighting that ended with no clear victory for either side.
“We have to protect our country ... now there is no choice as the foreign forces abandon us,” said Farid Mohammed, a young student who joined a local anti-Taliban leader from Parwan.
He was speaking as the German military concluded the withdrawal of the second largest contingent of foreign troops after the United States with around 150,000 soldiers deployed over the past two decades, many of them serving more than one tour in the country.
US President Joe Biden and NATO said in mid-April they would pull out the roughly 10,000 foreign troops still in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that prompted the mission.
The United Nations envoy for Afghanistan said this week the Taliban had taken more than 50 of 370 districts and was positioned to control provincial capitals as the country looked increasingly unstable as foreign military support ended.
Armed mainly with old assault rifles, pistols and grenade launchers, men like Salangi and Mohammed have joined local shopkeepers and traders as part of a loosely-formed Public Uprising Force trying to reclaim some of those areas.
Ajmal Omar Shinwari, a spokesman for the Afghan defense and security forces, said Afghans keen to take up arms against the Taliban were being absorbed intro the structure of territorial army forces.
But some political analysts warn of the growing risk of a return to civil war as more groups took up arms.
Faced with rising violence, President Ashraf Ghani visited Washington in June to meet Biden, who pledged US support to Afghanistan but said Afghans must decide their own future.
Talks to try and find a political settlement in Afghanistan have stalled, although the head of the Afghan peace council has said they should not be abandoned despite the surge in Taliban attacks.


Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill

Updated 05 December 2022

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill

  • Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border
  • South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year

SEOUL: North Korea fired around 130 artillery shells into the sea off its east and west coasts on Monday, South Korea’s military said, in the latest apparent military drill near their shared border.
Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border in what Seoul said was a violation of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement designed to reduce tensions.
The South Korean military sent several warning communications to the North over the firing, the ministry of defense said in a statement.
North Korea did not immediately report on the artillery fire, but it has been carrying out an increasing number of military activities, including missile launches and drills by warplanes and artillery units.
South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year, saying they are necessary to deter the nuclear-armed North.
The 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) was the most substantive deal to come from the months of meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
With those talks long stalled, however, recent drills and shows of force along the fortified border between the Koreas have cast doubts on the future of the measures. South Korea has accused the North of repeatedly violating the agreement with artillery drills this year.
This year North Korea resumed testing of its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017, and South Korea and the United States say it has made preparations to resume nuclear testing as well.


Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Updated 05 December 2022

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

  • Local authorities have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years
  • Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases

BEIJING: Businesses reopened and testing requirements were relaxed in Beijing and other Chinese cities on Monday as the country tentatively eases out of a strict zero COVID-19 policy that sparked nationwide protests.
Local authorities across China have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years, encouraged by the central government’s orders for a new approach to fighting the coronavirus.
In the capital Beijing, where many businesses have fully reopened, commuters from Monday were no longer required to show a negative virus test taken within 48 hours to use public transport.
Financial hub Shanghai — which underwent a brutal two-month lockdown this year — was under the same rules, with residents able to enter outdoor venues such as parks and tourist attractions without a recent test.
Neighboring Hangzhou went a step further, ending regular mass testing for its 10 million people, except for those living in or visiting nursing homes, schools and kindergartens.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people became the catalyst for the recent anti-lockdown protests, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts reopened on Monday.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from August until November.
Authorities in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, and Shandong scrapped the testing requirement for public transport on Sunday.
And Zhengzhou — home to the world’s largest iPhone factory — on Sunday said people will be allowed to enter public places, take public transport and enter their residential compounds without a 48-hour negative test result.
The World Health Organization has cheered China’s loosening of its zero COVID-19 policy, which came after hundreds took to the streets across the country to call for greater political freedoms and an end to lockdowns.
While some COVID-19 rules have been relaxed, China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother further rallies, boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
And as officials have dismantled testing facilities, long queues have appeared around those that remain, forcing residents to wait in cold temperatures to get tests that remain obligatory across much of China.
“Students can’t go to school without a 24-hour negative test,” wrote a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“What’s the point in closing testing booths before dropping the need to show test results completely?” another asked.
Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases.


Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Updated 05 December 2022

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

  • The growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues
  • Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production

STOCKHOLM: Sales of arms and military services grew in 2021, researchers said Monday, but were limited by worldwide supply issues related to the pandemic, with the war in Ukraine increasing demand while worsening supply difficulties.
The top 100 arms companies sold weapons and related services totalling $592 billion in 2021, 1.9-percent more than the year before, said the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
However the growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues.
“The lasting impact of the pandemic is really starting to show in arms companies,” Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP.
Disruptions from both labor shortages and difficulties in sourcing raw materials were “slowing down the companies’ ability to produce weapons systems and deliver them on time.
“So what we see really is a potentially slower increase to what many would have expected in arms sales in 2021,” Tian said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also expected to worsen supply chain issues, in part “because Russia is a major supplier of raw materials used in arms production,” said the report’s authors.
But the war has at the same time increased demand.
“Definitely demand will increase in the coming years,” Tian said.
By how much was at the same time harder to gauge, Tian said pointing to two factors that would impact demand.
Firstly, countries that have sent weapons to Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars will be looking to replenish stockpiles.
Secondly, the worsening security environment means “countries are looking to procure more weapons.”
With the supply crunch expected to worsen, it could hamper these efforts, the authors noted.
Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production, accounting for over half, $299 billion, of global sales and 40 of the top companies.
At the same time, the region was the only one to see a drop in sales: 0.9 percent down on the 2020 figures.
Among the top five companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — only Raytheon recorded an increase in sales.
Meanwhile, sales from the eight largest Chinese arms companies rose 6.3 percent to $109 billion in 2021.
European companies took 27 of the spots on the top 100, with combined sales of $123 billion, up 4.2 percent compared to 2020.
The report also noted a trend of private equity firms buying up arms companies, something the authors said had become increasingly apparent over the last three or four years.
This trend threatens to make the arms industry more opaque and therefore harder to track, Tian said, “because private equity firms will buy these companies and then essentially not produce any more financial records.”


US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

Updated 04 December 2022

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

  • Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east

KYIV: The head of US intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”
“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the US director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”
In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.
“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.
“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will be used for further destabilization of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelensky said.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.
Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.
Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.
“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.
“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.


Indonesia’s Mt. Semeru unleashes lava river in new eruption

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022 in Lumajang, East java, Indonesia. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2022

Indonesia’s Mt. Semeru unleashes lava river in new eruption

  • Semeru volcano on Java island spews a column of ash 1.5km into the air
  • Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Indonesia’s highest volcano on its most densely populated island released searing gas clouds and rivers of lava Sunday in its latest eruption.
Monsoon rains eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop 3,676-meter (12,060-foot) Mount Semeru, causing the eruption, according to National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari.
Several villages were blanketed with falling ash, blocking out the sun, but no casualties have been reported. Several hundred residents, their faces smeared with volcanic dust and rain, fled to temporary shelters or left for other safe areas.
Thick columns of ash were blasted more than 1,500 meters (nearly 5,000 feet) into the sky while searing gas and lava flowed down Semeru’s slopes toward a nearby river.
Increased activities of the volcano on Sunday afternoon prompted authorities to widen the danger zone to 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the crater, said Hendra Gunawan, who heads the Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center.
He said scientists raised the volcano’s alert level to the highest and people were advised to keep off the southeastern sector along the Besuk Kobokan River, which is in the path of the lava flow.
Semeru’s last major eruption was in December last year, when it blew up with fury that left 51 people dead in villages that were buried in layers of mud. Several hundred others suffered serious burns and the eruption forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. The government moved about 2,970 houses out of the danger zone.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted numerous times in the last 200 years. Still, as is the case with many of the 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people continue to live on its fertile slopes.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines, and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.